And so, without further ado - Orange Bowl Championship - here are some thoughts about guard play over the last few games. Overall, I think we have seen that a settled lineup with Bright, Mann, and Green has resulted in Bright settling into control and showing pretty good composure and tempo in the way he runs things. While not questioning Mann's competitiveness, Mann is not an overt competitor. Bright is in your face, he is going to bark a bit, and he is going to slap some butts. Frankly, a team full of underclassmen needs this type of demonstrative leadership.
Aaron Bright, in his initial three conference starts is 2-1, with two turnovers a game against four assists a game. I thought against the weenies in the conference opener and against Sun Devils that we clearly had the better point guard play, not so much in points and assists,where we did have an edge, but in offensive tempo, focus and defense. Zona was a tougher challenge and maybe Aaron over-penetrated a couple of times and didn't push the break when opportunities were there, but he had some good looks from the perimeter and if one or two had gone down... I love his passing skills, particularly the off-handed, one-handed bounce passes through traffic. That takes skill. He was crucial in our come back from the brink against Zona, as he subbed in at the point at 6:46 mark of the second half when we were down 13 and the place was rocking - and we went on our run from there with him at the helm. Best play of the year for the Cardinal so far, Bright and Owens on the pick and roll at McHale, Bright splits the defense with a bounce pass to Owens for the three-point play the old fashioned way - via the tomahawk dunk! Owens was so high on that one that he appeared to have just base jumped from the rafters.
Jarrett Mann started conference play at the two-guard spot, and interestingly, looked instantly comfortable there. The role of the defensive stopper is comfortable and he is a better slasher and creator off the ball after the offense has a spin in the rinse cycle. Against cal he was flat terrific defensively for the most part, even picking up three steals. His defense at A-State was great. In fact, the A-State game may have been his best game in a Cardinal uniform if he had kept his turnovers down. He will get better at this spot as he gets more comfortable with the offense, but I do think the comfort factor off the ball played a role in his going 5-7 from the floor, and 7-9 from the stripe, in the Desert. That's right, 7-9 from the stripe. And did I mention that our defense against the weenies and in Zona seemed to have picked up its tempo and become more active, particularly on the ball and in the first passing lane off the ball (in three games, we have 15 steals and have forced 47 turnovers), which I attribute to the new starting line-up.
Jeremy Green really competed his butt off the first three games, but showed a bit of a patience issue and committed too many turnovers. That said, he shredded the weenies like a sausage deconstruction machine. His second half was a thing of beauty. A-State was a junk defense battle and they got the best of Jeremy. His shot selection was poor, but so was a lot of other guys in that game on both sides. Patience is a challenge sometimes. UA, this is the third year of the Fogg-Green battle and I thought Arizona made a brutal decision to take Fogg out and put Lavender in. Suddenly Green and Owens and the Cardinal went on their late run while Fogg rested. Kyle Fogg can flat out guard Jeremy, and he might not have broken double-digits if Fogg had been left in the game to play until he passed out. Still, Jeremy again showed his competitiveness down the stretch by finding points on thunderous put-back dunks in transition, pullup jumpers, and a very nice pass to Owens for one of his many helicopter flights.
Against cal, Anthony Brown was flat impressive, as he was against ASU. Quick trigger, shots off the bounce. and troublesome defense to boot. Off the bench, one of the things good bench players bring is a boost in tempo to the game, a jolt to the team's energy and attitude. I thought in the first two games of conference play, Brown brought the bounce off the bench and made us instantly better. Now making shots is always the best way to do that because everyone notices and the game is won by the team with the most points, but his defense in both of those games was very good as well. Zona was a tougher gig, because the shots didn't fall and, frankly, Zona countered with Kevin Parrom and Jamelle Horne, both beasts. But, I really like this kid and he will end up a better player than either of them. He brings it and brings it with a bit of David Moseley gunner swagger. And we need that.
Final Thoughts: The two best backcourts in the conference coming in this weekend, with the Cougs the best. Maybe the two best teams. Remember boys and girls, spay and neuter your dogs and cats. We actually have to get out and run a bit with both teams, because they send so many guys to the offensive glass and with guard penetration. We have to counter punch, take the bait, and finish.
Final Final: Call me crazy, but how weird is it to see Lute Olson sitting there watching the game from the stands? Its very weird, but I really prefer it to having in him in the blue blazer. And is it me, or did the Zona game crowd exemplify the catharsis of a good game?
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